T Nation

Asymmetric Muscle Growth


Hey Coach.

I separated or dislocated (not sure which one) my shoulder and broke my collarbone 10 years ago. Ever since then there seems to have been some nerve damage. There are some muscles on that side that don't grow quite like the other side. This only becomes apparent when I start lifting and gaining mass (That is, when I'm small/skinny there is not a noticeable difference). I lost a bit of feeling and when I flex my shoulder it kind of spasms a bit. It also looks ripped compared to my other one, although smaller. I find it hard to pull my elbow up and behind my back (Like when using a pool cue for example).

The two muscles that are really lagging behind on that side are
-the lateral head of triceps
-rear delt

And to a lesser degree some upper back muscle of the rotator cuff, and my bicep.

How would you suggest getting these muscles to wake up?

So far I have been doing band pull aparts (I feel something come alive in those muscles when I do them with my hands rotated so that my pinkies are facing up, like indiana jones opening a tomb door), as well as isometric holds in lateral raise and dumbbell kickback poses (just on lagging side). I am going strictly on trying to innervate those muscles and get some MMC with them, but am not sure how to best program this sort of "recovery."


I received radiation to my neck and chest at age 12 for Hodgkin’s disease. I’m now 56. At the time it was a death sentence so I’m fortunate to be alive. A long term sequela of the mantle radiation is cervicoscapular atrophy. All tissues in the radiation field degenerate into scar tissue and the muscles atrophy away. The left side of the upper and middle trapezius, posterior delts and rotator cuff are atrophied. For many years the area was basically paralyzed. Decades of aggressive rehab and exercise have restored some function. In the last few years I have been able to do power snatches, SGHP, deadlifts, farmers and waiters walks.

A big challenge is that bilateral loading in the big exercises creates dramatic increases in the left/right imbalances. So for periods of time I only do left sided dumbbell exercises. I’d appreciate any insights Christian could offer on reactivation and strengthening. I’ve talked to the leading expert at Sloan Kettering and the medics have little to offer.


^I have no problem with you “hijacking” my thread, you need this advice more than I do!

I can only further comment on what I’ve been doing and how it seems to be working (I think I can notice a difference after a couple weeks)

On band pull aparts:
This sort of must correct imbalances naturally because instead of the opposite sides working together they are working against each other. So if you move equally on both sides the weaker side will be working harder than the stronger side. Thankfully the standard band pull apart hits most of the muscles I seem to have problems with, but it is making me think I should try some other variations that get a bit more to the triceps

Isometric holds:
Well, as this seems to be a neural problem, and having remembered a few times that CT (and/or others) has said the greatest neural adaptation comes later on in workouts I have done these at the end of workouts. I do them for 20-30s. Usually one rep or set in two or three different poses.

Anyway, I’m gonna continue doing this for now. If there’s a better way to do it then it will only take less time.


My apologies and I appreciate your feedback and input on the pull aparts. I have used them for a few years and have noticed some improvements in activation. 4 weeks phases of left sided only dumbbell work (rows, cleans, presses, swings, snatches and carries seemed to be more effective. I (and I’m sure others) would also greatly appreciate hearing what Christian has to say.


Absolutely no need to apologize, your story makes my complaints trivial, I wish you the best on your quest and am glad my topic struck a desire for you to enter the thread and post.

I am intrigued by the single side only dumbbell work. I would be scared to try that out while completely ignoring bilateral barbell exercises.

I noticed today while doing push presses that I had pretty even form on the way up, but on the way down I felt myself using my left (uninjured) side more. So that’s something I think i can correct that should help as well.


I found Dan John’s ideas on One Arm Press work with focus on Chin Sternum Zipper alignment to be helpful. His ideas of one sided dumbbell days also inspired me.


Bumping this up as I seem to have hit a bit of a wall making progress with my methods and am hoping for some new ideas. The arms are definitely closer than before, but the difference still bugs me. I seem to get a better pump with my left arm too.